According to motivational speaker Simon Sinek, “A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.” I believe in this wholeheartedly, because trust is essential for the functionality and the success of the team. If there is no trust, there is no team. It’s fake. As leaders, it’s imperative that we ensure trust is being built, nurtured and promoted throughout our team. We can’t afford to have fake teamwork or, yes, people involved, because that doesn’t lead to growth and improvement for the team. The lack of trust actually stymies growth and creates a culture in which team members are afraid to speak up and voice their opinions.
Considering this, how do we build trust with our teams and continue to nurture that trust as the days go by?
Communicating with your team is essential. Use text messages, phone calls, station visits and any chance that you can to share a meal or cup of coffee with them. One of my favorite activities is to go in the crew’s dayroom and get a cup of coffee. I’ll sit down for a few minutes, and we’ll chat about anything that the crew wants to discuss. No agenda. I just want to spend time with them. I truly enjoy their company and hearing their perspective on things. Their perspective is the most important, because they’re the ones who are doing the job. You want them to be open and truthful with you, so you, as the leader, must create an atmosphere in which they can be open and truthful. As Samuel Goldwyn said, “I don’t want any yes men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth, even if it costs them their jobs.” Quality communication allows this to occur. You just have to be willing to listen and check that ego. It isn’t about you. It’s about the team trusting you and being able to approach you to have difficult conversations.
This is an area in which we, as leaders, must do a better job. If we mentored more of the up-and-coming team members in our department, we would have people who are ready to take our place when we retire. When I say ready, I mean prepared, trained and educated on what to do in a certain position. We have done a poor job in the fire service in this arena from my perspective. We are so enthralled with our own daily activities that we forget that we need to prepare someone to take our place one day.
Do you want your position outsourced because, you, as a leader, didn’t prepare the people in your own organization to be ready for the next step? If someone who does their entire career in my organization isn’t ready to fill my spot, then I failed as a leader, plain and simple. We must do better at this: I know it’s one of my personal goals. When I retire in a few years, I want to ensure that I mentored someone to step into this position and thrive. I control that. It takes effort and work, but, to me, it’s 100 percent worth it to know that one of the team members who came through the ranks in our organization is in this position to carry on what we built.
Acting on feedback
You build trust by first allowing feedback and then acting on the feedback. A small example of this: I send my team many emails that I believe are important for their operational readiness. Previously, when I sent these emails, I simply forwarded them to my team with “FYI” in the body of the text. Well, one of my captains remarked about “FYI,” and I took it to heart. He didn’t say anything negative, but his remark revealed that I viewed “FYI” from a different perspective than he and possibly others did. I immediately changed my message to “Team, please see the below information.” I wasn’t doing anything intentional by using “FYI,” but it came off wrong, and I didn’t realize it. The point of the story is this: Your team shapes the way that you lead and build trust if you pay attention to the small details. That’s where it’s at.
To build trust with your team, you must have humility, but it must be genuine. It can’t be faked or forced as a result of you reading about it in this article or some book. You must realize as a leader that you aren’t as important as you believe that you are. Your team is important. Once you realize this, your world as a leader will change, and you actually will be able to influence your team much more.
Let battalion chiefs be battalion chiefs, captains be captains, drivers be drivers and firefighters be firefighters. If you take that away from them, you totally cripple the system that you are built on. Now, obviously, if someone isn’t doing as they should in this process, you eventually must step in as a leader. However, this goes back to the aforementioned mentoring aspect.
I don’t have to worry about this with my team. They do it the right way. When I see this organically taking place, it brings a smile to my face, because it shows that the system works if I am consistent and the team knows my expectations. However, it goes the other way as well. My team has expectations of me that I must uphold, or, again, the system and trust that our bond is built upon is a complete fallacy.
In the end, trust, teamwork and leadership go together. They are so critical to building a team that lasts. This is where major progression takes places. I’ve seen it firsthand.
Then again, what do I know? The more that I learn and the more that I experience, the more that I realize that I don’t know much at all.
However, one thing that I do know: As Sinek says, “A boss has the title. A leader has the people.” For a leader to have the people, that person must build, nurture and promote trust. Once that trust is broken, it’s an uphill battle to ever regain it. So, do yourself a favor: Don’t break it in the first place. Be the leader and own it. Trust and team start with you.